The Kansas Geological Society is investigating whether a recent earthquake in southern Kansas might have been caused by oil production practices in the area.
But KGS interim director Rex Buchanan said it might be difficult to determine if the 3.8 earthquake on Dec. 16 near Caldwell was man-made or caused by natural forces.
No evidence has been found yet to suggest hydraulic fracturing caused the quake, said Buchanan. It’s more common for minor quakes near oil production sites to be caused by the disposal of salt water waste, The Lawrence Journal-World reported.
“There’s a lot of saltwater produced with oil,” he said. “Once you separate that off, you need to dispose of it. In Kansas, that’s done in wells deep in the subsurface. There is production and disposal wells in the general vicinity around there.”
The Kansas Corporation Commission, which regulates oil and gas production in the state, is also investigating the issue.
“It is important to point out that Kansas has a long history of oil production with very few reported incidents of any kind,” KCC spokesman Jesse Borjon said in an email to the newspaper. “The KCC is looking into the issue of seismic activity as it relates to oil and gas activities. We have been in communication with the Kansas Geological (Survey) and continue to gather information.”
It’s possible the earthquake was entirely natural, Buchanan said.
Caldwell is in Sumner County near the Oklahoma border, just west of a geological formation called the Nemaha Ridge, which has nearby faults that are still “slightly active,” the KGS said.
“There has been activity down in that part of the state,” Buchanan said. “Whether this is a continuation of that or something else, that’s what we’re in the very early stages of talking about.”